Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

May 16, 2023

Dan Keefe (518) 486-1868 |

New York State Historic Preservation Office Awarded Federal Grant to Expand Diversity in National Register Listings

The New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has received funding from the National Park Service (NPS) as part of the Underrepresented Communities Grant Program (URC), which works towards diversifying nominations submitted to the National Register of Historic Places. New York State was the only state to be awarded two grants, one for the Marcus Garvey Park Nomination Project ($60,000) and the other for the Yiddish Art Theatre National Register Listing Update Project ($25,000). Grants will be facilitated by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) with the projects completed in collaboration with partners in New York City. Since the program launched in 2014, OPRHP has received eight URC Grants, which are awarded by NPS from an annual allocation from the federal Historic Preservation Fund.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "Our State Historic Preservation Office is committed to advancing and recognizing the stories and places that reflect New York's diverse population and deep history and these grants will allow us to continue to prioritize this good work. Documenting underrepresented history not only gives credit and agency to the rich lived experiences of New Yorkers, but it also generates a better understanding of our shared history and unlocks resources that can help with community-driven historic preservation efforts."

Originally named Mount Morris Park, Marcus Garvey Park is one of Manhattan's earliest public parks (1840). In 1976, the park's Harlem Fire Watchtower (built 1855-1857) was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but the full twenty acres has not yet been included. The park was recently highlighted in the 2021 Academy Award-winning documentary Summer of Soul, as the site of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The Marcus Garvey Park Nomination Project will focus on the park's significant associations with Black history under the themes of social history, music, recreation, and community organizing, as well as the earlier history of the Eastern European Jewish immigrants who had associations with the park and moved into the area by the turn of the twentieth century. The project will utilize archival research, field work, historic resource documentation, mapping, and oral histories to gather information that will be used to complete the National Register nomination. Community engagement will be key to this process, and project partners include NYC Parks, the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance, and the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association (MMPCIA). 

"Marcus Garvey Park is a beloved park that has served as a central gathering place for Harlem neighbors and led cultural movements for close to 200 years," said NYC Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue. "This essential documentation grant enables NYC Parks to assemble important facts, photos, community stories, and historic perspectives as we move toward the formal nomination of the park as a deserving site for the National Register of Historic Places. The resulting documentation will also serve as a catalyst for historic preservation funding opportunities and help Parks in the ongoing care of our historic twenty-acre park for years to come."

"Marcus Garvey Park is a culture icon for its surrounding community," said Timnit Abraha, the chair of the MMPCIA Landmarks Committee. "This grant and the park's continued programming growth will allow for its historical significance to be widely recognized and, in turn, a commitment to future advancements."  

"It is wonderful that Marcus Garvey Park is finally receiving recognition for the special role it has played for decades in the hearts and minds of the African American community that surrounds it," said Valerie Jo Bradley, co-founder and president of the Marcus Garvey Park Alliance. She added, "Ralph Ellison justly illustrated the park's importance to the community in his classic novel Invisible Man that climaxes a Harlem riot with a funeral held at the site of the iconic Mt. Morris Park Fire Watchtower.  This twenty-first century honor brings the park out of obscurity like Ellison's protagonist.  It says, this park matters."

Ms. Bradley, who also serves as president of the historic preservation organization, Save Harlem Now! explained that the African American architectural firm Ifill & Johnson was the first Black firm hired by New York City Parks & Recreation to design the swimming pool and bath house located in Marcus Garvey Park.  "Save Harlem Now! is interested in preserving the pool & bathhouse because it is an early example of Black Modernism, examples of which the National Trust for Historic Preservation is searching out and trying to save around the country. By the park being placed in the National Register, it makes it easier to attract funds to shore up structures like the pool & bath house, which is a part of African American history."

The Yiddish Art Theatre National Register Listing Update Project will amend the existing nomination record for the historic Manhattan site at 189 Second Avenue to include its significant and nationally important LGBT-associated history as a post-World War II nightlife and performing arts venue, as well as the live/workspace of three prominent gay artists (Jackie Curtis, Peter Hujar, and David Wojnarowicz) with connections to the AIDS epidemic. The AIDS epidemic has been cited by scholars as one of the most significant events to shape LGBT history worldwide. However, at this time, there are no New York State buildings in the National Register of Historic Place that are listed for their association with the AIDS epidemic. The amendment will fix that omission and will also correct the official record by requesting a name change to the Louis N. Jaffe Art Theater / Club 181 / Phoenix Theater, in order to distinguish between the historic building and the Yiddish Art Theatre company. The project will be spearheaded by the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project, a cultural heritage initiative documenting the city's LGBT heritage, whose work has been supported by previous URC grants awarded to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (almost $200,000 in grant awards from 2014-2021). Work on the amendment will include research, writing descriptions, information analysis, photography, and more.

"This will be our project's eleventh nomination, representing one-third of the total number of LGBT-related sites in the nation nominated for the National Register, said project co-director Jay Shockley. "As the single most tangible reminder of the heyday of Yiddish theater in New York City, the Jaffe Theater's history also highlights the diverse cultural contributions of the LGBT community: Club 181, with luxurious drag performances (1945-51), the pioneering Off-Broadway Phoenix Theater (1953-61), and the residence/studio of photographer Hujar (1973-87) and artist Wojnarowicz (1988-92)."

More about the National Park Service and Underrepresented Communities Grants: The National Park Service's Underrepresented Communities Grant Program (URC) works towards diversifying the nominations submitted to the National Register of Historic Places. URC grants are funded by the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) and are administered by the NPS. Projects include surveys and inventories of historic properties associated with communities underrepresented in the National Register, as well as the development of nominations to the National Register for specific sites. All funded projects must result in the submission of a new or amended nomination to the National Register of Historic Places to include underrepresented communities.

Learn more about NPS and the full slate of the grant awards here.

The URC grants program is funded by the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), established in 1977 to provide financial assistance to carry out activities related to preservation. Funding is provided from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease revenues, not tax dollars, and an amount is appropriated annually by Congress. Awards from the HPF are made to States, Tribes, Territories, local governments, and non-profits. Learn more about the Fund here.

More about the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 79.5 million people in 2022. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. Also, connect on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.